Frederick Russell Burnham is best known for his scouting exploits in southern Africa during the Matabele Wars of 1893 and 1896 and the Anglo-Boer War in 1899-1900. Burnham also spent time in West Africa, in 1901, working for a syndicate exploring for minerals in the Ashanti Kingdom in modern day Ghana.
The great American scout was a firm believer in the ascendancy of the Anglo-Saxon “race.” He was a disciple of Cecil Rhodes, who envisioned a new Anglo-Saxon Imperium, guided by a secret society, that would elevate mankind to new heights of accomplishment. Bundle of contradictions and paradoxes that he was, Burnham also felt an atavistic tug toward the “savage.” In fact, while he always thought of himself being on the “progressive” side of history — the side of social improvement and development of the land for its “highest and best use,” Burnham also knew himself to be “at heart a splendid savage, nothing more.”
The rumble and roar of Ashanti drums seemed to trigger something deep inside him.
This passage fascinates me, for a couple of reasons. One is its description of the simple power of music to override cultural and intellectual constructs and strike to the core. If it hits you, it hits you — regardless of age, background, culture. Thus, authentic musical expression is powerfully subversive, in the best way. It is also … enchanting… to see a dyed-in-the-wool white supremacist like Burnham recognize something deep within in himself that leaves him not so very differentiated from the black man after all.
“…an uncanny feeling steals over the white man — a feeling that the experience is not new to him. But where? When?”
Methinks Burnham’s good friend H. Rider Haggard, or, just a couple of decades later, the Texas talespinner Robert E. Howard, could have made quite a tale out of this scenario…
Of course Burnham equates the uncanny feeling with madness, and notes the “agonized sigh of relief’ with which the white man “comes out of the strange enchantment.” Burnham the “progressive” white man of the 20th Century must, perforce, break free of the enchantment before he is utterly bewitched. Yet we know that Burnham, the “splendid savage” also yearns to stay in the enchanted realm evoked by the drums. The drums. The drums…